By Kaitlyn Clark
The Haldimand Press
CALEDONIA—While the community may have to wait until next year to get their chili fix, the three young recipients of the annual Knights of Columbus Caledonia Chili Cook Off fundraiser will still receive help thanks to the generosity of their community and the creativity of event organizers to find new ways to raise funds.
While the 2019 cook off raised about $30,000 and saw the event named Haldimand County’s Community Event of the Year, the altered fundraising efforts for 2020 raised a whopping $40,000.
“In a time of pandemic when people are not allowed to socialize and have to social distance, and potentially people are out of work and funds are tight, still the community pulled together and found a way to knock this one out of the park,” said organizer Mike Zyma.
The most recent portion of this effort was an online auction, which ran from July 5 to 12 and auctioned off the prizes that were set to be given out at the original cook off. Over 80 items worth about $10,000 were auctioned off, including two round trip tickets with WestJet, his/hers mountain bikes, a custom outdoor fire place, a large barbecue, and services from local businesses such as duct cleaning, painting, and hearing services.
“The auction did quite well, better than we expected,” said Zyma. “The auction itself was somewhat uneventful at the beginning but picked up significant activity in the last few days and was almost insane within the last few minutes. Many people I talk to were in a bidding war with others that I spoke with, making it very nail-biting.”
Zyma thanked Buck at Bid2Buy for offering to auction the prizes, adding, “Special thanks goes out to all the businesses and sponsors that donated prizes to our worthy cause.”
Those who won an item in the auction can collect them from Zyma in Caledonia by contacting him at 905-912-6298 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
In addition to this auction, both Zehrs and Home Hardware in Caledonia hosted donation drives in June and July for the three children. Cara Haist, Zehrs Store Manager, said on their participation, “Zehrs has been a sponsor of the Chili Cook Off since it began, so we wanted to again be a part of it this year, despite COVID. I came up with the idea to do a fundraiser at the tills…. Loblaws is very big on supporting community, so I knew this was the right thing to do. Our store raised $7,000, which was amazing in this time when people were struggling due to COVID.”
“We believe in supporting the people and communities in which we live,” added Paula Coate, Operations Manager of Grand River and Sayer Home Hardware. “These three young girls have shown great character and strength in the face of adversity. We were inspired and grateful to be afforded the opportunity to help. We hope our small part in this community effort has a positive and lasting affect in their journey ahead.”
As reported in last week’s Haldimand Press, Lion Craig Peters, in collaboration with Kathy Marshall at the Caledonia BIA, hosted a bottle drive as well to benefit the Knights of Columbus’ efforts, raising about $3,500.
Zyma extended a “special thanks” to everyone at Zehrs, Home Hardware, and the bottle drive that helped support their cause.
“We are very fortunate to live in a generous and supportive community here in Haldimand County,” added Zyma. “Thank you all.”
The cook off was launched by Zyma, raising $6,000 in the first year, and has since grown significantly, requiring extensive planning from December to April when the event is normally held. Zyma is not alone in the planning process however.
“There is a team of about six Knights of Columbus members that meet weekly and canvas for support during the week for the entire five months, which can be exhausting,” explained Zyma, noting that the core team devotes about 800 hours to coordinating the event. Last year’s event saw about 850 in attendance and required the help of about 80 volunteers from St. Patrick’s to keep everything running smoothly.
“The event is designed to raise funds for local families that are in need of some community support. The families that we target usually have children with some type of injury, disease, illness, or condition that has made it difficult for the parents to make ends meet,” Zyma continued. “In some cases, parents don’t have the means to provide medical treatment that is not covered or simply can’t afford to pay basic living expenses due to their child’s condition and attention needed. These stories hit home with the community and compel all to want to help.”
This year funds were raised for 6-year-old Maeve Field of Hagersville, 1-year old Zoey Gilbertson also of Hagersville, and 12-year-old Tanika Jacobs of Caledonia.
Maeve suffered life-altering injuries from being struck by a car in March of last year. There was severe damage to her eye, one leg and one arm required amputation, and she will need continuing dental and jaw surgeries as she grows. Basic prostheses are only partially covered by the Assistive Devises Program and Maeve’s father, Ian, has not worked since the accident, instead being at home to care for his daughter.
Zoey suffers from Eosinophilic Gastro-intestinal Disease. Because of this rare condition, she receives almost all of her nutrition by feeding tube. Zoey must travel to Cincinnati Children’s Hospital for treatment at a cost of $60,000. The current pandemic has caused the family to have to stop international care at this time, but they hope to continue in the near future.
“Being an international patient, it’s been difficult,” said Zoey’s mother Rebecca. “Financially, emotionally, it’s been difficult. So to have the community come together to show their support has been amazing. Zoey is so very lucky as well to have such a great community to grow up in.”
Tanika was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes in 2016 at the age of 8. She had to have her right leg amputated below the knee and a double lung transplant. Tanika needed another double lung transplant in 2019, which she received on March 11, 2020 before returning home to recover.
“I’m really grateful, especially with COVID and everything I know it’s been harder to donate since some people have to pay for babysitters and other stuff,” said Tanika.
Zyma, along with representatives from Caledonia Zehrs, Lions, BIA, and Knights of Columbus, presented the funds to the three families on Sunday, July 19. He said, “It was particularly special to meet Maeve, Zoey, and Tanika in person, which makes the effort all the more worthwhile. It’s a feeling that if I had to describe it, would be that it warms your heart.”